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Drought-resistant grain to transform Kenya rice farming

Nerica, a dry land variety, does not require a lot of water and takes 105 days to mature. Photo/JOSEPH KANYI
Nerica, a dry land variety, does not require a lot of water and takes 105 days to mature. Photo/JOSEPH KANYI 

Kenyan farmers will soon be able to grow rice without using flood waters for irrigation as the Government and development partners move to improve yields through a drought-resistant variety.

Researchers have identified a new seed type dubbed New Rice for Africa (Nerica), a dry land variety that requires less water and takes 105 days to mature.

It can also do well in areas with and average temperatures of 26 degrees celsius.

Humid areas

The trials have been going in Embu district and are led by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari). The research will be extended to agro-pastoralists areas.

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The main advantage highlighted in the trials is that this type of rice can be successfully grown in any part of the country all year round.

It can be grown in humid areas from May to July when temperatures are relatively low.  

According to the Director of Irrigation and Sewerage Services at the water Ministry, Mr Robinson Gaita, the research has been necessitated by Economic Vision 2030 agri-business objectives to feed a rising population.

Other targeted rice seeds include Basmati-ITA and IR and Sindano which will be modified to breed uplands traits.

Genetically Modified seeds will soon be offloaded into agribusiness as Kenya embraces modern farming technologies.

Though the fight against GMOs has met with resistance from organic farming institutions, Mr Gaita says “Kenya could no longer hide its head in the sand.”

He says: “We are now fast tracking agriculture research on seeds and fertiliser as well as developing our irrigation infrastructure to speed up the change to suitable farming methods.”

Sh12 billion has been sourced and set aside to maximise rice production in the country and the project will soon be launched at the Mwea Irrigation scheme.

According to Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta, the money will be pumped into the expansive scheme through a partnership between the Kenyan government and that of Japan.

“Some of the money will go into infrastructure expansion and others into the Mwea Irrigation Agricultural Development (MIAD) Centre which has been mandated to carry out research on rice production across the country,” he told the Business Daily during a recent tour of Murang’a.

MIAD Centre was established in 1991 through a technical cooperation programme between the two governments.

It has been under the management of the National Irrigation Board since the technical a partnership period elapsed in 1997.

Mr Gaita said poor research methods on rice seeds had hit productivity and that the country’s output does not meet demand which currently stands at 285,000 tonnes per year.

“The deficit which is 200,000 tonnes is met by importing rice. We want to avert this through introduction of dry land rice,” he says.

He says many families will avoid borne diseases. “Stagnant water on the ground in rice irrigation fields is a breeding ground for malaria vector and other water borne diseases besides eroding soil fertility. The ultimate high medical bills drain the hard earned income from rice,” he says. 

According to a report on food production under irrigation in Kenya (June 2010), various pilot projects for Nerica have been initiated, including in range lands.

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